Record-Setting Anti-Trans Laws Highlight Importance Of Fighting For Trans Rights
It was about three weeks ago that Shirley realised she had to leave the state where she’d spent most of her life.
Arkansas had just become the first state in the country to pass a law banning doctors from providing gender affirming care to transgender children. Children like Shirley’s 11-year-old daughter, Aj.
‘It just seemed really dangerous to me to continue to be here,’ Shirley told UNILAD. ‘Its very important to me that Aj has the support she needs, and it feels like a very toxic place for her to be raised in, especially now.’
Under the law passed on April 8, transgender youth in Arkansas will be unable to access puberty blockers, hormone therapy and other gender affirming care until they are 18. A separate law also now allows doctors to refuse to provide non-emergency treatment on religious and moral grounds, making it easier to turn away LGBTQ+ patients.
The laws are a direct attack on trans kids like Aj, who says she’s identified as a girl since she was five. ‘I have a friend who had some girl’s clothes that were Aj’s size… so I let her try on a dress and she just came in and was beaming,’ Shirley recalls, while Aj describes the moment as her ‘first happiness as a woman’. Shirley adds, ‘It just hit me, I don’t know why I denied it for so long. I think I was just scared of what it would mean for her growing up, especially here.’
Acceptance has been hard to come by, even from family, but these new laws proved to be the final straw. Shirley has decided to pack up and move with Aj across the country to Washington state, where she hopes Aj will be able to find a more understanding community.
2021 is already the worst year on record when it comes to anti-trans legislation in the United States. According to the Equality Federation there have been 148 anti-trans bills introduced in 30 states during the current legislative session, 10 of which have passed.
Roughly half the bills focus on excluding trans children from sports, with a further 40 restricting gender affirming care.
Shirley says she’s tried to protect her daughter from knowing too much about the new laws, and while Aj says she’s not scared, she knows she could be put at risk. ‘What happens if I get a doctor that doesn’t accept it, that will refuse me treatment?’ she says.
It’s something no child should have to worry about, but Shirley and Aj’s experience is mirrored across the country. Jasmine Beach-Ferrera, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, says conservatives have placed an ‘increasingly narrow focus’ on restricting the rights of trans youth in particular, ‘on children that we should be supporting and doing everything we can to help them survive and thrive.’
‘It’s dangerous because it’s clear that these lawmakers don’t want trans kids to exist,’ says Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project. ‘And when you don’t want a population to exist, while you may not succeed in wiping them out, you will increase the suicide attempt rate, reduce services for them that [will] make their lives hell, increase bullying of them at schools, and expose them to more violence.’
It’s no coincidence the threat of violence against the trans community is worse than ever. 2021 is set to outpace 2020 as the deadliest year on record for trans people in the US, with Black trans women in particular subject to increasing attacks. Data from The Trevor Project also shows that calls to LGBTQ+ youth suicide hotlines increase dramatically with each new piece of legislation.
‘Transgender kids are already living hard enough lives having to figure out their identity and understand who they are,’ says Vivian Topping of the Equality Federation. ‘Its creating dangerous, unsafe spaces for families who are now having to think about leaving, or staying in a state where their child cannot receive the care that they need.’
For families like Shirley and Aj, leaving has quickly become the only option. It’s a daunting move for Shirley, a single parent living with disabilities and severe anxiety. ‘It’s hard to even make ends meet, let alone save up money to move and get out of here,’ she tells UNILAD. A friend has set up a GoFundMe page to support the move, and Shirley is hopeful Aj will soon be able to get the support she needs.
The LGBTQ+ community has rallied against the new laws, with hundreds of activists participating in phonebanks and email campaigns. Many have also testified against the legislation at virtual and in person hearings.
Some are just kids themselves. Earlier this year Eli Bundy, a 16-year old from South Carolina, testified against a transgender athlete ban, and also met with the bill’s sponsor in a personal plea for them to reconsider.
‘I was kind of hoping to show that we’re just kids,’ Eli says. ‘That the people they’re going after are 12 to 18-year-olds that are trying to do homework and trying to go to soccer practice.
‘It felt really disappointing to me to meet with her because I don’t think that we got through to her in that way. I don’t know how you could look someone in the face and deny them their humanity like that.’
Lawmakers have been unable to point to a single instance of trans participation in sports causing a problem, a dissonance that Eli finds especially frustrating. ‘There are kids who are going to hurt themselves, kill themselves over this, and that’s less important to you than fixing a problem that doesn’t exist? I don’t know how that’s more important than actual people’s safety and wellness.’
The South Carolina athlete ban didn’t pass, and while Eli is proud of their work standing up for their community, it’s something they’d rather wasn’t necessary to begin with. ‘I would love to never do it again,’ Eli says. ‘I enjoy being involved in it and I think it’s important, but I would much rather just be able to live our lives.’
‘The tremendous and courageous ways that especially trans youth and trans leaders are meeting this moment is just inspiring beyond belief,’ says Beach-Ferrera, whose organisation has been working with Eli. ‘But it’s also deeply upsetting that people should need to do this.’
There has been some pushback nationally. The Biden administration has threatened to withhold federal funding from states that pass anti-transgender laws, and more than 109 businesses have signed a statement opposing anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.
But with Pride month just around the corner, some are disappointed by the lack of response from corporations claiming to be allies. ‘We know that more can be done, but we aren’t seeing that right now, and I think that’s incredibly disappointing for a lot of transgender folks across the country,’ Topping says. ‘It’s so easy to put out a poster that turns your logo into a rainbow, but what actually helps is when you put money and dollars towards it.’
In the face of record-breaking anti-trans legislation, standing up for the trans community has never been more vital. ‘It’s incredibly important to be out loud and vocal,’ says Topping. ‘Talk to your friends about what’s happening and explain to them why you care about it.’
There are resources available for people looking to educate themselves on trans rights and support the community. Topping also urges people to donate specifically to trans-led organisations, many of which are underfunded. The Trans Justice Funding Project is one such non-profit that works to distribute funding to groups run by and for trans people across the United States.
‘You don’t have to understand everything,’ Eli says. ‘I think it’s much more important that you respect and love and care about the trans people in your life.’
For families like Shirley and Aj, acceptance is invaluable. ‘The people that have supported us have supported us deeply, and it means a lot to us,’ Shirley says. ‘The ignorance is causing hate, and people should stop and think. It’s all about love.’
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues and want to speak to someone in confidence contact Mindline Trans+ on 0300 330 5468. The line is open 8pm–midnight Mondays and Fridays and is run by trans volunteers.
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